Brahms 3 Intermezzi, Op. 117; 6 Klavierstücke, Op. 118; Schumann Papillons; Kinderszenen
Sarah Beth Briggs (piano)
Avie AV 2398 80:54 mins
This recital combines early Schumann with late Brahms: the former’s mercurial, playful Papillons Op. 2 and Kinderszenen Op. 15 sandwich two much-loved collections of miniatures from late in Brahms’s life. Briggs’s approach to the literature-inspired Papillons is wonderfully persuasive, exaggerating each fantastical characterisation, with a generous, flexible approach to tempo. She draws out some magical, delicate colours to the quieter passages, contrasted with an exuberant, full sound for the more extrovert characters.
Her Brahms left me ambivalent. These much-loved late piano pieces given to Clara Schumann offer a powerful contrast after Papillons. I often loved Briggs’s fluid, flexible approach and her unusually expansive pace. On the other hand, her restrained use of pedal and fondness for a fairly staccato touch occasionally tips into the prosaic, even business-like, despite the welcome clarity of sound this brings. She incorporates some delightful, historically appropriate touches, such as a gentle temporal dislocation of left- and right-hand passages, and a rhetorical approach to phrasing – but the recording quality is not warm. The overall effect is therefore somewhere between Baroque austerity and Romantic veiled nostalgia; Briggs’s Brahms rather reveals his affinity with Bach. The 13 little pieces in Schumann’s Kinderszenen suits Briggs’s approach better; she thoroughly enjoys all his madcap characters, and nothing feels rushed, clipped or cold. The rendition is by turns tender, humorous, pompous, searching, frantic. The famous ‘Träumerei’ is handled with warmth, the gorgeous ‘Kind im Einschlummern’ utterly tender – a hugely enjoyable account.